Can an employer make an employee repay continuing education classes if the employee leaves employment?

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Can an employer make an employee repay continuing education classes if the employee leaves employment?

Can a city make employees sign individual contracts requiring the employee to maintain employment for certain amount of time after the employee goes to a class paid for by the employer or be required to repay the employer for the class? The City pays for firefighters to go to Paramedic class but in return requires the firefighter to sign a contract stating that they must stay an employee for 3 years after completion of the class or repay the City. Can they then hold the firefighter to this contract and make him repay the full amount of the class if he leaves after 2.5 years?

Asked on May 19, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

This is a perfectly legal agreement--there is consideration for it (the payment for the class), so as long as the firefighter agrees to the terms in advance (e.g. they can't be "sprung" on him or her after having already taken the class), it is enforceable...or the firefighter can, of course, decline to take the paramedic class and avoid any repayment obligation. Or he or  she could pay out of his or her own pocket in the first place. If there was a pre-existing employment contract which guaranteed classes without repayment obligation, that might be a different matter--a lawyer would need to review the contracts against each other--but if that's not the, the city may do this. It's actually very common in the private sector.


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